Cops leave home after search for Auburn suspect
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — After firing tear gas and searching with thermal imaging and tactical teams, authorities in Montgomery left a home early Tuesday where they believed the man charged with fatally shooting three people near Auburn University might have been hiding.
Law enforcement swarmed the scene Monday afternoon and spent hours there as they searched for Desmonte Leonard. They hadn’t brought anyone out of the home by the time they held a briefing just after midnight.
And around 2:25 a.m. Tuesday, an Associated Press photographer on the scene saw all law enforcement agents that had been there leave without comment. It wasn’t immediately clear why they left. There was no activity around the house.
As the search dragged on Monday, Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said officers had interrogated one of the people who reported seeing Leonard, but there was no word of any charges.
Leonard is charged with three counts of capital murder in a shooting Saturday night during a pool party at University Heights apartments. He’s also accused of wounding three others. The dead included two former Auburn football players.
While authorities were at the home Monday, Strange said they were going to scour the attic, air conditioning ducts and “every crevice” of the house until they were satisfied. They were drilling holes and tearing through pieces of the house. They vowed to repay the house’s owner or rebuild the structure.
Investigators said thermal imaging and other technology showed a person was in the attic area of the house and that they’d heard coughing and movement. But after midnight, they acknowledged that they hadn’t heard those noises for several hours.
Dozens of police cruisers, trucks, fire vehicles and vans surrounded the house, located in a middle-class area a few miles from Alabama’s Capitol. Authorities had received two 911 calls that someone who looked like Leonard was in or near the house, Strange told reporters. One of the calls came from the owner of the home.
Also on Monday, police said they had arrested two men accused of hindering the search.
Auburn police said Jeremy S. Thomas, 18, of Montgomery was charged with hindering prosecution after he fled the scene of the shooting with Leonard. Records show Thomas was free on bond at the time of the Auburn shootings while awaiting a manslaughter trial set to begin June 18 in last year’s shooting death of a teenager.
Montgomery police said Gabriel Thomas, 41, was also charged with hindering prosecution after having contact with Leonard after the shooting and providing false information to officers.
Police said it wasn’t known whether Jeremy Thomas and Gabriel Thomas are related. Officers also were looking for a third man described as a person of interest in the case, but it wasn’t clear why.
The three killed in the weekend shooting included former Auburn players Edward Christian, who had to quit the team because of a lingering back injury; and Ladarious Phillips, who was transferring from Auburn to Jacksonville State University to play football. The other person killed was Demario Pitts, 20.
Of the three people who were wounded, current Auburn football player Eric Mack and Xavier Moss were both treated and released from a hospital. The third, John Robertson, remained in critical condition after being shot in the head.
A witness who identified himself as a friend of Pitts said he didn’t know the man who pulled out a gun and began firing into the crowd following a dispute over a woman.
“I ain’t never seen him a day of my life,” said Turquorius Vines, 23, who wasn’t injured in the melee.
Police have arrested Leonard on two previous charges involving guns.
Court records show Montgomery police arrested Leonard in 2008 on a charge of carrying a pistol without a license after stopping a suspected stolen vehicle and finding him inside. Documents available online didn’t show whether the case was ever resolved, but Leonard was freed on bond within days.
Leonard was charged in 2009 with assault after a man was shot in the groin, but prosecutors dropped the case after the victim told authorities Leonard wasn’t the shooter.
A Montgomery woman filed a paternity suit against Leonard on Friday that identified him as the father of a girl who turned 1 last month.
Another woman sued him in 2009 seeking unpaid child support for a girl who is now 4. A court ordered monthly payments of $305 by Leonard, who records show was working at a Walmart store at the time.
Auburn police said the shootings did not appear to have anything to do with some of the victims being former or current players on the football team, which won the national championship in 2010. The swimming pool at the apartment complex frequently is the site of parties.